The Indian Premier League returned for its seventh season last week and the spring extravaganza has begun outside of Indian territory for just the second time in its history.
Like 2009 the small matter of India’s general elections is to blame, with the UAE agreeing to follow in South Africa’s footsteps and host games whilst India’s resources are put towards election security. The IPL started with a bang in 2008 with two special hundreds from Australasian batsmen propelling their teams to successive totals over 200 in the first two matches of the tournament.
New Zealand wicket keeper Brendon McCullum smashed 13 sixes in a 73 ball 158 in game one whilst Australian Mike Hussey followed that up in game two with 54 ball 116 with nine sixes. McCullum’s innings allowed the Kolkata Knight Riders to post 222 from their 20 overs whilst Hussey’s Chennai Super Kings scaled further heights with a total of 240.
These two 1st innings would be indicative of totals set in the first season of the IPL as batsmen set about hapless bowlers with inventive shots and power hitting. In fact the first season recorded the joint highest 1st innings run rates that the league has seen up to this point at 8.25 runs per over. The average first innings total was also high at 163.3. It is important to note that these totals do not include matches that were rain affected.
After a season of uninhibited run scoring the IPL moved its operation to the Rainbow Nation and saw the balance of power swing back towards the beleaguered bowlers. Pitches were more conducive to seam and swing bowling leading to the lowest 1st innings totals on average and slowest run rates at 150.4 and 7.52 respectively.
With the elections over the IPL returned to India to start its third campaign and again the batsman came out of the block early, with Mumbai making the first 200 plus total in game two against Rajasthan. It was the first sign that fans were in for another season of heavy hitting and another dose of prime entertainment and average totals climbed compared to the first Indian edition, up to 164.8 with run rates equalling the 8.25 set in 2008.
As with anything in sport bowlers were forced to adapt their games and from 2011 through 2013 onwards they achieved this with run scoring trends down compared to the first two editions staged in India. Whilst there has been a constant debate about the dominance of bat over ball, the underlying trend in the IPL has been that bowlers have caught up slightly to batters with innovations of their own, causing reductions in average 1st innings totals and run rates.
Despite incredible innings, such as the Chris Gayle demolition of Pune last year (175*), average first innings totals fell below the 160 mark in each of the past three years with 2011 and 2013 seeing significant drops to 155.5 and 156.6 respectively. Run rates also fell to below eight runs per over with drops to 7.84 in 2011 and 7.86 in 2013.
The IPL is an entertainment vehicle first and foremost with big business involved at its core and paying fans turning up to see boundaries above all else, so these underlying trends must have been worrying for team owners and tournament directors alike, especially given the saturation of the T20 market in recent years.
Despite the small sample size of just ten games owners must be encouraged by the early going in the UAE as totals have seen an uptick towards levels previously seen in the early versions of the IPL. Though games are being played in the UAE and not India, pitches in the two countries are very similar which allows for comparisons with 2008 and 2010. Average 1st innings totals so far are 162.8 with an 8.14 run rate, a notable increase upon the previous three years.
With the UAE only slated to host a limited number of games in this year’s IPL, as the elections will finish soon, it will be interesting to see whether these trends are sustained when the tournament moves back to the India and over the course of the 60 plus game season.
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